I started my first traveler’s notebook while I was sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to Zurich. I was 20 years old and I was about to spend a semester studying abroad in a small town in the German-speaking side of Switzerland.
I didn’t even buy this traveler’s notebook for myself. I hadn’t thought that I might want to journal about my experiences. Instead, as a going-away present, my best friend gave it to me because she’d loved keeping one during her semester abroad.
This little gift changed everything. I wonder if Eternal Expat would even exist if I hadn’t started journaling way back in 2008.
I look back at that traveler’s notebook less and less often, but I still love paging through it every now and again. It was the rawest, most hilarious, and naive journaling I’ve ever done and I love peeking back into that part of my life.
Since 2008, I have kept countless other travel journals.
I have two from the year I lived in New Zealand. Three more from the two years I lived in and traveled around Australia. There’s the journal full of angst that I kept from the year I taught English in Korea.
Then I traveled around South East Asia for 6 months and wrote so much. In those short six months, I worked my way through two full notebooks. I thought one would be enough and I ended up buying another while I was on the road.
I was seeing new things every day and I wanted to document it all.
Those two notebooks are the most detailed travel journals that I’ve ever kept and I’m so glad I did because it was such a pivotal part of my 20s and it was an experience that brought me to where I am today.
Those journals were also the start of this blog. Those detailed accounts of what we did, where we stayed, how much we spent became the very first blog posts on Eternal Expat and they helped grow this audience in a way that I never expected.
But you don’t have to journal for any specific reason. You don’t have to have some end goal.
Keeping a traveler’s notebook should be for the joy of it all and while this post will help give you some guidance as to how to keep a fun traveler’s journal with some general travel journal ideas, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
It’s for your memories and to prove to your kids and grandkids one day that you were pretty cool back in your youth.
Travel Journal Ideas
All of these travel journal ideas are great whether you’re moving abroad, taking a two-week trip, or going on a huge round the world adventure.
Most of these things will require some tape or a glue stick.
If I’m on the road and the hostel, hotel, or guest house where I’m staying doesn’t have tape or glue.
Then I’ll put it on the page where I eventually want it to be and just stick it in there once I’m back home or when I can find some elsewhere further down the road.
1. Write about stories, events, and people that you want to remember
The number one thing that a travel journal is for me is a place to look back on moments and memories.
I am, above all else, a writer (at least in my own head). I love nothing more than to spend hours writing in my journal about all the things that have happened in the last 24 hours.
I love recounting conversations with strangers, what the food from that random street stall tasted like, and how it all made me feel or what it reminded me of or made me think of that is familiar to me.
I think the thing that makes a traveler’s journal the most exciting is when you can recount specifics. If you are sitting in a little cafe or hostel on an island in Thailand, what do you see, what to do you hear, who is around you?
What about those funny German guys you met or that intelligent French woman who spoke three different languages and inspired you to keep practicing your Spanish.
Or perhaps there were random acts of kindness that you witnessed or beautiful sunsets that you think you’ll never forget (you will forget them until reminded by a photo or words in your notebook).
The most important thing is to think about what you’ll want to remember about your trip. What can’t be captured in a photograph? What will make you smile 10 years from now when you reread these journals over a few too many beers on a quiet Friday night?
2. Keep ticket stubs for your traveler’s notebook
Like I mentioned above, I love adding things to my notebooks that remind me of moments.
If I go to a local show or a museum, I usually keep the tickets. I used to keep them all in a sort of memory box and only use my notebook for writing, but my parents went to Italy and turned their traveler’s notebook into a scrapbook and I was totally inspired.
Now I always put the ticket stubs in my notebook and then write about my experience.
It makes the notebook more visually appealing and it is also a nice memento, especially if it was something in a foreign language or that has beautiful images on it (like my ticket from the golden temple in Kyoto, Japan).
3. Write phrases in a new language
Traveling to South America and want to make sure you know how to ask for water, the bathroom, or if there is a room available at this hostel?
Or perhaps you’re visiting South Korea and you want to learn the alphabet so you can read the menu and figure out if you’re eating bulgogi (beef) or samgyeopsal (pork belly).
If I’m going to make notes about a new language, I always start at the back of the notebook.
If you just write things down on the next available page like you would a journal entry, it’s going to take a while to find that page every time you want it.
Starting from the back also means that if you want to write a few more phrases down that you learn, then you can continue to put them all in the same place.
Most of my notebooks from my travels around South East Asia have words in the back like cảm ơn (thank you in Vietnamese) or Sawasdee (hello in Thai).
4. Add drawings (even if you can’t draw)
I am not the best artist in the world. All of my art teachers in school told me I should probably consider taking a different elective once taking art was no longer required in high school (that still annoys me, to be honest!).
But sometimes you need a visual or sometimes you just want to doodle.
Sometimes when I’m traveling by myself, I will take my notebook out while I’m having a meal or in the evenings and I’ll just draw some pretty rudimentary sketches of different things that I loved about that day.
That could be a fruit that I ate that I’d never seen before or perhaps I’ll try to replicate what a plate of food looked like that I’ve never seen before traveling there.
Sometimes I just draw hearts or random lines because it’s entertaining and it adds more visual to my notebook.
If you enjoy doodling or drawing at all, your traveler’s notebook is a great place to create visuals of your travels.
5. Buy postcards
This used to be such a popular thing to do when I first started traveling back in 2008. I used to send postcards to everyone, especially my parents, when I was backpacking around Europe during college.
My mom saved all of the postcards and when I returned home, I added them to my notebook.
I know some people who send themselves postcards.
There’s something that feels a little bit more special about the postcard having traveled nearly as much as you have in order to get home. However, you can simply buy a postcard, write on the back of it (or not) and then add it to as a unique travel journal idea.
6. Add polaroid or other instant photos to your traveler’s Notebook
I know those little Polaroid cameras aren’t as popular as they used to be, but there are lots of places, especially around Europe, where photomats are still very popular.
All over France and in a lot of places around Germany, I stumbled upon photo machines. I think it’s so fun to take photos with the people that I’m traveling with.
It’s a great way to capture moments and actually have them physically printed.
I don’t know about you, but I always say I’m going to print my photos from my phone or camera after a trip and I never do. So these are a nice way to make sure you have physical evidence of your youth, of your travels, of those moments with strangers or people that you love traveling with.
7. Beer or wine labels of your favorite drinks
This is my number one favorite thing to put inside my traveler’s notebooks. I am a big fan of trying different beers or wines when I travel and I usually try to peel the labels off of ones I’ve never tried before, especially if I really like it.
The great thing about these labels is that they’re usually still sticky when you take them off, so you can stick them straight on or into your notebook without needing glue or tape. If I’m by myself, I’ll take the time while I’m drinking the beer to write a little bit about the flavor.
If I’m out with other people I’ll simply save the label and write about it later.
8. Cut out maps of your favorite neighborhoods and add your favorite stops
This is perhaps my second favorite way to decorate my traveler’s notebook.
This started way back when I was studying abroad in Switzerland and backpacking around Europe. I fell in love with little streets or neighborhoods in Milan, Paris, Munich, and Brussels.
I wanted to remember those little places and why I loved them. So I would always grab the free local maps (is this still a thing in 2020?) and I would cut out the area that I fell in love with.
I put a little mark for the great falafel spot or the park where I spent hours reading a book. I mark the little things that I loved in that area on the map and I glue it into my journal and write more about that city and what I loved about it.
9. Keep business cards from cool shops
This is something I started doing more recently since I started my blog.
I like to keep business cards from cute shops where I got souvenirs or from the best hotels I stayed in.
I usually do this so I can write about it later in complete detail on my blog, but I also love doing this so that I remember the name.
10. Record how a place makes you feel
It’s easy to write about what a place looked like or what you did for the day, but in 20 or 30 years from now, will you remember how those places made you feel?
Writing about my feelings seems to come naturally, more so than writing descriptive narratives of what I saw for the day and sometimes I actually have to make sure I don’t just write about how I feel but also what I see.
But I’m always happiest to relive the emotions as well as the visuals when I go back over my travel journals.
11. Use it to keep track of recommendations from other travelers
Back in 2008 and 2009 and most of 2010 and 2011, I traveled without a phone, nevermind without a smartphone.
I don’t think I got an iPhone until around 2016, so before that, I used my travel journal to keep track of everything. Including when someone would recommend a place to stay or a restaurant.
For the most part, I usually just look up the location on Google maps and put a pin in it with a note these days. But once I’ve been and if I really liked it, I’ll add it to my notebook.
However, if you’re traveling somewhere where you won’t have access to data or the internet or you simply don’t want to travel with an expensive smartphone, there’s no better place to keep track of recommendations than in your traveler’s notebook.
12. Don’t forget to decorate the outside of your traveler’s notebook
You don’t have to cover it with stickers or beer labels like I do, but there’s I do think decorating the outside of the notebook is just as fun as filling the inside.
If you are using a notebook for a single trip or round the world adventure or for that year you lived in Japan teaching English, then I recommend covering the outside with things that are specific to that country or trip.
Most of my traveler’s notebooks from Asia have stickers from cute shops I went to or labels from Angkor beer and Chiang Beer. My notebooks from Mexico have Modelo labels and a sticker from my favorite chilaquiles restaurant.
13. Don’t let too many days pass before you write things down
My final bit of advice for these travel journal ideas is to try to find the time to write regularly in your travel notebook, especially if you are visiting new places every few days.
If you let four or five days go by and each of those days was packed with sites and museums and restaurants and tours then you’ll end up feeling so overwhelmed when you finally sit down to write about your experiences.
You’ll be so much more likely to remember things if you try to write even just a few paragraphs at the end of every day or at the start of every day about the day before.
The Best Travelers Notebook to Buy
This is totally personal.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less interested in what the notebook looks like and more interested in whether or not it’s going to fit in my purse so I can take it with me everywhere.
I’m interested in what the lines look like, are they too wide so I can’t write very much on a single page? I definitely don’t want a notebook with blank pages, but for others who love to draw what they see more than writing or who want more space to make it like a scrapbook, that might be ideal.
I love putting stickers and beer labels on my notebooks, so I don’t care very much about what color it is or what it looks like on the outside.
Figure out what works best for you and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. This traveler’s notebook is going to be home to your deepest thoughts and happiest memories. Buy what you want.
These are just a few notebooks that I’ve loved in the past and have bought on several occasions.
- Bullet Journals: These notebooks don’t have lines, they have dots, which I have recently started loving. They are perfect for those that want to combine writing with drawing as well as pasting stickers and postcards inside their notebook. They’re colorful and super affordable at 3 notebooks for less than $8. Grab a set of bullet journals on Amazon here.
- Moleskin Notebooks: Moleskin hardcover notebooks used to be all I used. I still love them for journaling or as my to-do list notebook for work. They come in plain black and I used to cover them in loads of different stickers and beer labels. I love how many pages there are and how narrow the lines are so you can fit a ton of writing on one page. Plus, they are super durable so you can get them sandy at the beach, they can get a bit too hot in your backpack in Thailand, or they can get a little bit damp and they’re still fine. Get a hardcover moleskin here. They also have softcover moleskins which are equally great if you want something lighter. Grab a softcover moleskin here.
- Kraft Notebooks: A friend bought me this pack of notebooks a few years ago and I absolutely love them. They are perfect for shorter trips because they don’t have a ton of pages in them. I always like to start a new notebook for each trip, so these smaller ones meant I wasn’t leaving loads of pages empty in notebooks that were too big. They are small enough to fit into a purse or the front of a backpack and because they are still relatively plain on the cover I don’t feel bad about covering them in stickers. Get a pack of Kraft notebooks on Amazon here.
- Buy them as you travel. Some of my favorite traveler’s journals are ones that I’ve bought in book shops or stationery stores on my travels. I have one from Australia with a picture of the Sydney Opera Hours on it, one from New Zealand with a picture of a Kiwi bird on it, and the ones that I buy in Mexico all have Spanish on the covers, which makes me smile and will one day remind me I lived immersively in Spanish.
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